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Rock’s boy genius has something to say

by Archives January 19, 2005

Things couldn’t look better for Bright Eyes front man and creative force Conor Oberst. After releasing his first album a decade ago, he’s since been compared to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, has performed with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. at last year’s Vote for Change tour, and has been hailed the finest songwriter of his generation. And for the record, he’s only 24 years-old. It’s no wonder he’s labelled ‘rock’s boy genius’.

This young man from Omaha outdoes himself again by kicking off the new year with two simultaneous album releases on Jan. 25: I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning (a more folk/country-influenced album) and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (a more electronica sounding record). This is not uncommon in the music industry. Hip-hop sensation Nelly released two back-to-back albums last summer and who can forget Guns n’ Roses successful Use Your Illusion albums in the early 1990s.

However, what sets Oberst apart from the rest is that he’s doing two separate tours for each album because they have quite different sounds and require different accompaniment on stage. For instance, members of The Faint (signed on Oberst’s indie record label Saddle Creek) will be backing him up on his Digital Ash tour this spring.

Also, like practically all Bright Eyes albums, these new releases will feature an array of collaborations from Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James to country superstar Emmylou Harris.

“She’s just an angel,” Oberst said of Harris, who was his number one choice of artists to work with. “It was just a great experience, she was totally amazing and a sweet person. She made it really easy.”

There has been some talk about Oberst’s shift in songwriting, from the personal to the political, in the past couple of years. “I definitely never set out to write political or protest songs… I didn’t really think about politics very much until they sort of invaded my life, and kept me up at night and made me anxious and worried.”

He is also very outspoken about politics. “You need to be informed and engage yourself in the discussion because if not, you run the risk of other people deciding what kind of world you live in. That’s a frightening thought.” Hence, it was no coincidence R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe approached him to join the Vote for Change tour. “The outcome is tragic but I still don’t regret participating,” Oberst added.

Despite all the success he’s had as a musician and with his Saddle Creek records, which has become an internationally renowned label, rock’s boy genius is still quite grounded. “It’s been a gradual process from the earliest days of making cassette tapes and seven inches and selling them at shows and at the local record stores to the way it is now but it’s taken over 10 years for all that to happen.”

You can sample songs off Bright Eyes’ new albums on saddlecreekrecords.com.

Bright Eyes with special guest Coco Rosie and Tilly & the Wall, Saturday Jan. 22 at Spectrum.

Tickets are $25

Doors at 7 p.m.

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